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The Road to Mordor

The Road to Mordor: A tour of LotRO's update 14 and majestic Gondor

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Patches, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

With Update 13, Volume III, and the good nation of Rohan in our rear-view mirrors, we now turn ahead to see Gondor, next six exits, straight ahead. Lord of the Rings Online players have a lot to be excited for when Update 14 arrives, not the least of which is a new country that was central to the events of The Return of the King.

Update 14 is scheduled to release on Monday, July 14th, because marketers always get a special little thrill when they match up similar numbers. It's a pretty sizable content patch that's almost a mini-expansion, with five additional levels, a new epic book, three questing regions, well over 100 quests, and a new essence system for gear. This past week I sat down with Turbine to get a whirlwind tour of what lies beyond Rohan, and after seeing it, I think that LotRO fans have good reason to hope for an exciting summer.

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The Road to Mordor: Why nothing stacks up to Shadows of Angmar

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

I'm putting all of my cards out on the table here: I am in a massive Lord of the Rings Online slump right now. It's perhaps one of the biggest that I've had in years, which is made baffling by the fact that it was triggered by a new patch. I was pretty psyched about Update 13 until it came out, at which point I felt my enthusiasm drain away as I picked at the remainders of the epic story and a frustratingly boring Fangorn zone.

I tried not to swing into bitter burnout mode and calmly backed away to give myself a sabbatical from the game. Hey, it happens to all of us no matter how much we love a game, right? But during this time off from LotRO, I've been wondering a lot why for all of the improvements to story, questing, and art in the recent expansions, when I think of what I love about the game it's always everything pre-Moria.

So I'm going to start today's column with a bold hypothesis and then see if I can back it up: Nothing in this game can stack up to Shadows of Angmar content. Nothing feels as right as it does and did in those zones.

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The Road to Mordor: What would Lord of the Rings Online 2 look like?

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

It's safe to say that I've been around the block a time or two in this column, and as such I've grown quite familiar with a few of the war chants that some players like to spout in every single comment section. Yes, the character visuals are off-putting and a travesty that should be investigated by the United Nations. Yes, Turbine is a sinister money-grubbing organization with no love for the game, only for your wallet. Oh, it's not enough to say it once; there's a comment quota to be had!

But the one that both makes me roll my eyes the most and makes me think a bit is the comment that states that the franchise should be given to some other studio to make, I dunno, Lord of the Rings Online II: Shire Reckoning.

It's an interesting thought exercise that I feel has very little possibility of ever happening. Turbine has the license for at least a few more years, and anything past that would require Warner Bros. and the Tolkien estate to be convinced that a Lord of the Rings MMO could be done better and made more profitable elsewhere. Wishful thinking is one thing, but practical reality is another. However, let's say for the sake of argument that the commenters got their way and Brandybuck Studios was commissioned to make a new MMO for Middle-earth. What would it look like?

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The Road to Mordor: Birthdays and Beornings in LotRO

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Classes, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor, Anniversaries, Housing

This month Lord of the Rings Online will be hitting its seventh anniversary. That's right: Seven years ago, LotRO opened the doors to Middle-earth in a way that we never had before. Some took cheap shots by calling it a World of Warcraft clone, but the less inflammatory and more intelligent in the crowd realized that there was something more to this MMO than a Hobbit-infested Azeroth.

We've had ups and downs in LotRO since 2007, but one continuing testimony that I see mentioned on a regular basis is how welcoming and wonderful it is to return to this game. There's something special -- almost magical -- about Turbine's version of Middle-earth that has entranced many players and continues to do so. Heck, in my very first Road to Mordor back in 2010 I tried to articulate why I felt that this game was set apart from the pack in significant ways.

Today we have much to discuss about the future of the game, but I want to start with one overriding factor that so much of the game connects to: its sense of cohesiveness. This is not a scattered playground full of discordant toys but a unified world with intricate bonds that we are still exploring.

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The Road to Mordor: What could LotRO's new class be?

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Classes, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

Wow. A new class was at the very top of my wish list for 2014, but to be honest I never thought it would happen. However, last Friday Aaron Campbell confirmed on a livestream that the team is working on a 10th class to put into the game sometime this year. Instantly, speculation exploded among the Lord of the Rings Online community as to what the class could be and how it will fit into the game.

Campbell gave us a few clues to guide our speculation: The new class would be in accordance with the lore (Turbine talked to Tolkien Enterprises about it), it has been mentioned in the trilogy several times, and it will be a freep (PvE) class and not a creep class. He also thinks it's a "great fit" for the game.

I'm absolutely overjoyed that the game will finally be expanding its hero roster and giving us vets a good reason to go back through the entire journey, but I'll admit that I don't see a clear winner among the possible candidates. Let's hunker down together and look at the possibilities for this LotRO's newest class and see if we can sort out a lead candidate.

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The Road to Mordor: LotRO's big battles are a big bust

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Expansions, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

Recently my journey through Helm's Deep came to a close as I finished all of the quests plus advanced the epic story as far as it could go. Overall, I loved the expansion: It had great pacing, beautiful scenery, memorable quests, and an obvious dedication to doing The Two Towers right. But there was one glaring fault that Lord of the Rings Online seemed to save for the last, which I discovered during my foray into the big battle system.

Other than visiting them in a couple of press tours, I had been avoiding big battles (even though you can jump in one starting at level 10) because I wanted to experience them organically as part of the storyline. I wasn't necessarily anticipating them, but I wasn't dreading them either. "Mild curiosity" is perhaps the emotion that I identified within my breast, and as it turned out, that was wildly overpreparing for the experience that followed.

Big battles are, I'm sorry to say, a big bust in LotRO. Sure, they have their positives and moments, but for a system that Turbine spent over a year to create and shoved aside instances and raids in favor of putting into the expansion, it should have been so much more. So what went wrong?

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The Road to Mordor: When storm clouds gather...

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Industry, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

When I think about the news swirling around Lord of the Rings Online lately, I feel a bit like Sam and Frodo getting their first glimpse of Mordor and Mount Doom. It's hard to think of cheer and happiniess when the view is full of heavy clouds and ash.

I have several positive articles that I'd rather be penning this week, but I think it would be a mistake to avoid the questions and feelings that all LotRO players are experiencing right now, including me. It may not be the journey that I'd like to be taking, but it's the one that's needed right now.

So let's sit down together, fill our tankards, and mull over just what's going on with our Middle-earth. Maybe in the talking and in the company we will find the solace and comfort that we need.

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The Road to Mordor: How LotRO explores what it means to be a hero

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

Developers, journalists, and bloggers alike have spent gobs of time chewing on the concept of heroism in MMOs: what makes us heroes, how these games can be tailored to make us feel heroic, whether games should force us to be heroes, and whether heroism is a desirable trait for a gamer. What we can agree on is that, if nothing else, the term has been so widely used and abused that we don't even think about the fact that "hero" is often used synonymously with the term "player character." It's just accepted that we're all heroes in MMOs as a base characteristic.

But am I a hero? At the start of an MMO, no, I am not. I am a blank slate. My character has no backstory inside of the game, no accolades under her belt, and no past adventures in which she showed herself to be anything out of the ordinary. That's another thing about heroes, apparently: They can't be ordinary. They have to become uber-elite and save the world, preferably on a weekly basis by beating something to death with an axe or immolating it with a fireball spell.

Lord of the Rings Online and its dev team may not be innocent of trying to shove us into the roles of heroes and play to that allegedly universal fantasy, but what I do appreciate is that this game has made me truly consider what it is to be a hero and how most MMOs get it wrong.

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The Road to Mordor: The ins and outs of LotRO's mithril coins

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Business Models, Economy, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

Even though mithril coins have been in the game for the better part of a year now, we haven't really had a discussion about them in this space. I think it's time to do that, especially considering how Turbine keeps expanding the reach and utility of this handy-dandy (and expensive-wensive) currency in Lord of the Rings Online.

Mithril coins were added in March 2013's Update 10, and their purchasing power expanded in subsequent updates. Basically, the mithril coin was a new type of currency that offered a quick and clean solution to buying goods and services in the game without the player's having to go through the LotRO store. Think of them as video arcade tokens, obtained with real money and used on the entertainment that you desire. Turbine saw these coins as a way to streamline certain pay-for-service portions of the game that had their own separate currencies (such as revival tomes and stablemaster writs). One unified currency for a variety of uses.

I haven't seen a lot of chatter on these coins as of late, leading me to believe that their inclusion in the game is more or less accepted now. Some people find the coins irritating and an abuse of free-to-play moneygrabbing tactics. Others find them very useful and welcome in the game. I have a foot planted in both camps, and today we're going to look at the ins and outs of using mithril coins.

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The Road to Mordor: My 2014 wish list for LotRO

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

A lot of us Massively writers like to take the first column of the new year to lay out a wish list for our favorite MMOs. Of course, the other writers are total copycats because I've been doing this for years now and I think that they owe me royalties.

Lord of the Rings Online faces a challenging year in 2014. We already know that it's going to be an expansion-free year with a different focus on development. In April, the game will be seven years old, which certainly puts it into middle-age in MMO years. And with some uncertainty over the future of the game's IP rights, some disgruntlement over the store and aging character models, and no word as to how populated or profitable LotRO is, it's made a few folks nervous.

But it could be a tremendous year as well, full of possibilities for Turbine to make good choices. I'm still as in love with this game world as ever. I wouldn't be playing LotRO if I didn't find tremendous fun and value in it, and I have hope that 2014 will see the game get its second wind and strengthen as a whole.

So without further ado, here is my wish list from last year to see what was fulfilled and what was denied, along with my 2014 wish list for features and changes that I'd like to see.

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The Road to Mordor: Lord of the Ring Online's roadmap for 2014

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Previews, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

It's time for our final Lord of the Rings Online column of the year, so it's quite fitting that we use this space to discuss Executive Producer Kate Paiz's letter outlining what the LotRO community should expect come next year.

Before we begin, I want to mention that I have a mixed reaction to these letters from Turbine. On one hand, I love knowing what's coming and appreciate the attempt made to inform. On the other, these letters can be maddeningly vague on specifics (Turbine likes its "broad strokes" when releasing future info to fans), giving a "trust us, everything's going to be OK, but we're not going to say exactly how right now" vibe. I've grown weary of that. This letter in particular should have been as specific as possible.

There's been a huge swirl of discussion surrounding the letter, moreso than in previous years, due to the "bombshell" that there will be no expansion in 2014. I've been talking with friends about it and listening to what folks are saying, and I could make a case for this being the worst thing for the game and the best. But you don't come here for other people's opinions; you come for mine. Bring it on, 2014. I'm nothing but opinionated about this game.

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The Road to Mordor: Still waiting for (better) housing in LotRO

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor, Housing

In all of the excitement of Helm's Deep and the changes that it brought, it was pretty easy to forget that we are running out the clock on 2013 and the devs have yet to do anything about housing other than evict a lot of bums and fiddle with the chests. Remember that promise? One of Executive Producer Kate Paiz's four big initiatives for the year? Let me refresh your memory, as Paiz said in January 2013: "I am extremely pleased to say that this year we will be tackling a major revision to the Housing system."

Well, bad news folks: It's not coming this year. I pinged Turbine for a comment about this, and Producer Hannah Foell responded by saying, "After some excellent feedback from the Player's Council we elected to spend more time on it and push the housing update back to next year."

This is disappointing though not surprising. I've had the feeling that Turbine's been "behind" with Lord of the Rings Online this year, especially considering the expansion testing and release, and the studio's been visibly reluctant to get moving on a housing revamp, going so far as to downplay expectations by the community. So if we're not getting any improvements to housing in 2013, then I have time to ponder what this system needs. And since I'm not on this super-secretive and super-mysterious player council, you can hear what my thoughts are right now.

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The Road to Mordor: First impressions of Helm's Deep

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Expansions, Free-to-Play, First Impressions, The Road to Mordor

The past five or six months for me and Lord of the Rings Online have been full of apathy and disconnection. While technically fine, Wildermore didn't grip me in the least and left me feeling as if I was slogging through content for no great rewards. I hardly saw or heard other players there and eventually stopped feeling the urge to log in to the game. So while I was somewhat positive about a new expansion, I secretly worried that it would be a lot more of the same.

My play time over the past week or so speaks to how I've taken a shine to Helm's Deep because I've been enjoying it to the exclusion of almost all of the rest of my games. I don't want to overreact because I know there's always that "new car smell" that comes with major game updates like this, but I've started to fall in love with LotRO all over again.

I don't think there's any secret why this is happening. Helm's Deep has (thus far) some of the best questing content in the game to date, and the class revisions have gone a long way to making my characters feel fresh and fun once more. So here are a few vital first impressions of the expansion, both good and bad, that have come to mind as I've traveled Rohan since the launch.

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The Road to Mordor: On the cusp of Helm's Deep

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Expansions, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

The Road to Mordor On the cusp of Helm's Deep
This is it, my friends. There's no going back. In just a couple of short days, Lord of the Rings Online: Helm's Deep will launch, and we'll be forging ahead in unexplored territory.

Some of that territory is the game world itself, with the second half of Rohan being rolled out to much anticipation among the antsy level-capped community. Some of that territory is a radical change to the very foundation of LotRO itself. It's safe to say that while the former is welcomed, the latter is causing no end of controversy, anxiety, anticipation, delight, and horror.

I'm right there with you. I'm in the trenches, polishing my Captain's armor and getting ready for her next journey across Middle-earth. So before we saddle up and ride into Helm's Deep, let's go through what you need to know, to prepare, and to accomplish on launch day and beyond.

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The Road to Mordor: Six ideas to improve LotRO's deeds

Fantasy, Lord of the Rings Online, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Road to Mordor

The Road to Mordor Six ideas to improve deeds
When Lord of the Rings Online launched in 2007, one of its most-lauded features was the deed system. You have to keep in mind that achievement systems in MMOs weren't really the norm yet; World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online would boost their popularity a year later. And these weren't just meaningless Gamerscore points here; they were achievements that usually offered an in-game reward. From Turbine Points to virtues to mounts, deeds provided an alternate path for play and progression (albeit one that usually paralleled your standard path).

But in 2013, LotRO is six years old, and rethinking core features of the game is a theme of the year. We're on the cusp of a massive class and class trait overhaul, and Turbine did promise that housing will be getting some major love at some point this year (although hey, it's almost November. Perhaps this should be mentioned?). So why not rethink deeds?

As much as we love routine and become skittish about change, I feel it's important not to take anything off the table when it comes to improving the game. Deeds have served admirably thus far, but they're not without fault or potential for so much more. Here are six ideas that could take a good system and make it far better.

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